Five strategies to keep high-octane in your brain

Empty brain

My brain has been running on fumes for the last few weeks. Ever since returning from an extended vacation in New Zealand, I’ve had a hard time finding mental energy for much beyond day-to-day routines and work. No amount of surfing the Web, sci-fi-book-reading or self-motivation has filled my mental tank.

The problem? Not enough high-octane fuel.

An inspiring and thought-provoking lunch with an out-of-touch friend and colleague made me realize how much each of us needs quality input to keep our mental engines firing on all cylinders. We had an amazing and energizing conversation about projects, inspirations, and thoughts about the past and coming year. I left feeling energized and inspired.

More input is not the issue. We’ve already got more than we can handle between email, Twitter, Facebook and the myriad sources of information at our fingertips. The challenge is filtering all of this input to yield the highest value stuff (however you define value for yourself).

Here are a few things I’m going to try to get at the highest-octane input:

1. Create tiny streams of gold

Twitter is my primary source for timely information. The problem is, it’s difficult to separate the wheat from the chaff. I don’t have a massive network, but I follow enough people who post useful content that it’s really hard to keep up. The result? My attention gets a bit fragmented trying to process and sift through the flood of potentially useful information. It’s time to revisit my Twitter lists, and create one or two with 5-10 people who consistently reference high-value content. For people who use Facebook, it might be time to actively control what you see in your news feed, restricting your feed to a friend list of smaller group.

2. Shift to smaller networks

In keeping with a "less is more" philosophy, pare back your networks themselves. I’ve recently started using Path, and while it has features that echo many other services (like Twitter, Facebook and Instagram), it has one thing the others don’t: a cap on the number of people in your network (150, based on Dunbar’s number). I plan to spend a bit more time with this network, and a bit less time on my others, because I can handle the smaller group more easily. I’m hoping this will make for higher-value interactions, higher-octane input.

3. Read fewer blogs, and comment more

Blogs are a great resource for different perspectives and timely information. The problem? Too many of them. It feels a bit counterintuitive, but I think reading less blogs will actually serve me well. I’ve picked three blogs to read consistently with authors who publish high-quality content often (mine are Chris Brogan, The Brandbuilder Blog, and David Armano’s Logic + Emotion). Over time, I’ll probably seek out one or two more top-notch authors who write on different topics.

I think the other important thing is to comment on what you read. Take the time to construct a thoughtful response. It changes the way you process information, and gets those neurons firing more effectively. Reading is easy; coming up with something worth saying is harder. It probably wouldn’t hurt to read some of the comment threads as well. And one last thing to consider: if it’s not worth commenting on, was it worth reading??

4. Shake up your people patterns

We all have patterns we follow when it comes to the people with whom we spend time (e.g., lunch companions, spouses, significant others). While I think those interactions are important and necessary, they may not always push us as much as they could. Break those routines. Reach out to people you haven’t seen in awhile, learn what they’re doing and how they’re chasing their goals in work and life. It could lead you to ideas and inspiration you might not have found otherwise.

5. Be mindful

The last and perhaps most important thing is to be mindful of what’s going in the tank. Is it high-octane, or are we just burning cycles until something better comes along? Answer with the latter response too many times, and it’s probably a good idea to seriously re-evaluate how we’re choosing to feed our brains.

So that’s what I’m going to try. I’ll probably come up with a few other things over time, and if and when I do, I’ll circle back and update this post.

What do you think? How do you fill your mental tank?